I wonder if this curve will change in a few hundred years. On one hand, people will have a lot more things to know than now. On the other hand, they will probably be cyborgs by then.
Actually the sweet spot is likely to move even younger as people can bypass many of the traditionally gating career points and get on with doing productive work at an earlier age.
Why wait for your Bio post-doc years and clawing your way up the Professorship ladder if you can do DIYBio in your kitchen?
Maybe this trend will be balanced a bit by the need to know more and more over time in order to reach a level where your research actually becomes novel.
More than a bit.
Much, much, much more.
Seriously, the sweet spot will probably keep growing for a bit more as people are living longer and longer. There is time to study longer and start your research later - see this graph [theatlantic.com] from the article.
Study was conducted by a group of depressed scientists aged 35 to 50 in an attempt to cheer themselves up.
Have to admit: it worked for me!
Not only are people living longer, you also have a large generation (baby-boomers) possibly skewing the stats a bit. Plus many of them have decided to work longer than their parents, giving them more time to do more stuff.
Oh my... By the time you reach 60 you are waning in the irrelevant section and at 70 you are completely dead weight. Well, that is according to this one measurement parameter.
I do would like to note that the older generation can teach the young generation some tricks. It just requires you to listen to the "old guys" once in a while.
Math is a game for the young. [xkcd.com]
Along with the Editor's Note: I am not sure about the general trend of how much teaching was required from graduate students and post docs over the last hundred years, but I know that it is very difficult to be both under the pressure of teaching multiple classes in order to be paid and of publishing papers in order to get hired in the future. This much stress definitely hinders the quality of the work, and it is easily possible that many researchers come to their best ideas when they are significantly older and in a stable position.
Not only that, but it's also the way of thinking characteristic to novel ideas. Technology helps you to get more advanced things done with less effort.But the beauty of good research in science is not technology, but simplistic elegance. For that you have deep your field, which takes time.
ED Note: I've often wondered if the long years of post-docs and junior research positions isn't squandering the peak creativity of a generation of scientists in support of their elders' projects.
And I presume a factor like this would not be something the study could adjust for. So if it's true that 35-50 is the peak, that could easily be due to how academia is structured rather than any general factor innate to human beings (like our brain biology).
Perhaps in the future, mathematics & physics advances will dry up, and the response will be a widespread effort to fast-track kids in certain specialisms, so that by the time they're 20 they have the same level of academic & bureaucratic freedom as today's 35-50 year-olds. Wishful thinking?
No, it's probably brain biology.
Is it necessarily bad that it takes decades for one to reach 'peak productivity' in an academic field? Why?
And, if it is, what types of things should we, as a society, do to change it? How can we sustainably promote changes that would produce more worthwhile results, faster?
As a Scientist (I study brain computer interfaces for prosthetic applications), I don't see the lead up time as a problem. The specialization and detailed study required for a person to make important advances takes up till about 30yr old. After that you have a few years to find a position, set up a lab, start doing research under your own supervision, find funding etc. before you can really start producing good stuff. 35 is bang on for when I'd expect to be hitting stride.
The problem I see is that productivity tapers off after 15 years. Do people burn out? Do their brains stop functioning the same way? are the 15yrs of success just riding on ideas they had in their 20s? Can we keep good scientists productive longer? should we be shuffling them to admin roles faster to let bright new minds take the helm? Do we need to encourage risk taking by more established researchers?
All of that aside, I think that part of this may be that people tend to keep working in the fields they made their early seminal work in. Frequently a seminal work will take several years to digest through the community before it's recognized, and then several more years before the field has adapted enough for the next big breakthrough. This means that someone bright enough to make a significant contribution early in their career, is less likely to make them later on.
One factor that I see contributing, besides "burning out" or "brains not working," is that older scientists are increasingly shunted into administrative / advisory roles. The scientists I know in the "over 50" category tend to devote more time to to things like being a department chair, or flying to meetings of national science advisory boards. I wouldn't say this is necessarily a bad thing; as a younger researcher, I love the fact that someone else is dealing with the boring political/administrative aspects of research, so I can put in time in the lab doing "creative" research. Older scientists haven't necessarily stopped contributing; instead, they're "behind the scenes" enabling the next generation of younger colleagues to be so productive. Right now, I wouldn't want to end up like that (a "senior" scientist more focused on high-level administration than the hands-on details of research), but perhaps my opinions will change in a few decades --- and I can certainly see a lot of contribution to the overall scientific endeavor by older scientists that wouldn't be counted by a simplistic "groundbreaking research papers" metric.
Pop sci should stay on /.
Thanks for the feedback. As we are in the early days of SoylentNews, we are selecting from a wide variety of topics while we explore what everyone wants to see. I'd encourage you to read from the article you like, and feel free to skip the ones you don't. Thanks for reading! ~mattie_p
Math is becoming less and less of a young person's game. The vast increase in specialization over the last 100 years has meant that it takes longer to get to the forefront of current research. Most mathematicians are near 30 when they find a permanent position, so 35-50 encompasses the tenured years before you start to slow down too much. Not surprising if that's when you're most productive!
The Zuck says no way. 35-50 waaaaay too old.
When I was in my 20's no one would take any notice of my great ideas, and I had no money to do anything about them, albeit I still did a lot of 'stuff'.
In my late 30's and 40's I was full on learning/working/creating/earning and my output was [sometimes!] prodigious.
Now I'm just on the other side of that & I'm tired from all the work and have enough money to indulge that tiredness, so my output is less...
Actually I suppose I should admit it's probably also that I have more toys to play with now!